Northey Valenzuela

Northey Valenzuela

Fuel 2000 Records, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Bruce Springsteen -- who has been asked to analyze his own work as often as just about anyone in the modern era -- has more than once compared talking about music to talking about sex, suggesting that both are "better when demonstrated."

The Boss's apt analogy comes to mind when trying to describe Northey Valenzuela, an odd-couple side-project pairing of two singer-songwriters with diverse backgrounds but similar musical interests. Northey, of Vancouver's underground darlings the Odds, is a red-headed Canuck with a flair for witty, loose-limbed story-songs. Valenzuela, of Arizona's star-crossed Gin Blossoms, is a Mexican American with a perpetual twinkle in his eye whose polished songcraft has caught the ear of admiring artists from Nashville to the West Coast. What the two share most is an affection -- and a facility -- for intelligent, melodic, guitar-driven rock and roll.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Valenzuela and Northey's paths-crossing moment came when both were playing guitar and singing harmony for bands seeking fame and fortune in LA. The Odds and the Blossoms hung in the same bars, played on the same bills and crashed on the same floors more than once back in the day. A decade and a half later, the pair have hooked up for an album on which they trade songs and lead and harmony vocals like a NAFTA-ized version of the BoDeans, filling the air with jangly roots-rock with the bubbly start and smooth finish of professional musicians cutting loose and having a good time.

So what sets this album apart?

Maybe it's the way Northey and Valenzuela seamlessly slide between lead and supporting roles song by song. Northey has more of a pop/rock voice, where Valenzuela's is softer and smokier, but both give their phrasing a slightly wise-and-weary, lived-in feel, and the shift from one to other singing lead is barely noticeable.

Or maybe it's the way the pair's tongue-in-cheek humor keeps shining through. Early on, the chorus to Valenzuela's steady-rocking first offering "Counting On You" goes "I'm countin' on you / I'm countin' on you / I'm countin' on you / To do me wrong." "Let It Go" offers another nice twist as Northey croons over a faux Motown base "You've gotta be cruel to be kind, come on, lead on / We'll both feel better when one of us is gone." The laconic "Halfway To Happy" is another treat full of zingers.

Or maybe it's how effortless this album feels. Track after track, the pair find an apt turn of phrase and a sturdy hook to hang it on. Cuts like "Halfway To Happy" and "Borrowing Trouble" display a quiet mastery of songwriting and a pure enjoyment of that mastery. It's all so low-key and friendly in tone you almost miss the craft behind it -- but it's there, in spades.

That said, this still feels like one of those albums that bolsters Springsteen's argument. I could talk about it all night long and it wouldn't have half the effect of simply popping the disc in your player and settling into these rich, easy grooves.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fuel 2000 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.